Allied Warships

HMS California (F 55)

Armed Merchant Cruiser

NavyThe Royal Navy
TypeArmed Merchant Cruiser
Class[No specific class] 
PennantF 55 
Built byA. Stephen & Sons Ltd. (Glasgow, Scotland) 
Laid down 
Launched17 Apr 1923 
Commissioned15 Oct 1939 
End service1 Apr 1942 

On 25 August 1939 the passenger ship California of the Anchor Line (Henderson Bros) Ltd, Glasgow was requisitioned by the Admiralty and converted to an armed merchant cruiser. Conversion was completed on 15 October 1939.

Displacement: 16792 BRT
Armament: 8x 152mm, 2x 76mm
Speed: 16 knots

October 39 - August 40: Northern Patrol
November 40 - February 41: Northern and Western Patrol
March 41 - April 41: Western Patrol
May 41 - October 41: North Atlantic Escort Force
November 41 - March 42: South Atlantic Station

On 1 April 1942 returned and used as troopship by the Ministry of War Transport (MoWT).

On 11 July 1943 bombed and badly damaged in a convoy by a German Fw200 aircraft of KG40 about 320 nautical miles west of Oporto. The ship caught fire and was abandoned and scuttled the next day by HMS Douglas in 41°15'N, 15°24'W. 72 dead and 695 survivors.


Commands listed for HMS California (F 55)

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1Capt. Cuthbert John Pope, RAN7 Nov 1939Oct 1941
2A/Capt. Gerald Seymour Tuck, DSO, RNOct 194123 Dec 1941
3Capt. (retired) Edward Wollaston Kitson, RN23 Dec 1941early 1942

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Notable events involving California include:

18 Nov 1939
The German merchant Borkum (3670 GRT) is captured in the North Atlantic by the British armed merchant cruiser HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN). While en route under her prize crew to Kirkwall in the Orkney's she was torpedoed at 1530 hours on 23 November. She was hit by a torpedo from German U-boat U-33 and was abandoned two days later. The Borkum drifted ashore in Papa Sound and was declared a total loss. On 18 August 1940 she was refloated and towed to Rosyth, where she was broken up.

11 Aug 1940
HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, CBE, RAN) picks up 30 survivors from the British merchant Llanfair that was torpedoed and sunk on 11 August 1940 by German U-boat U-38 200 nautical miles west of Tory Island in position 54°48'N, 13°46'W. One of the survivors died aboard and was buried at sea on 13 August.

5 Dec 1940
The German blockade breaker Klaus Schoke (5830 GRT) was intercepted by HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) in the mid-Atlantic near the Azores. Unfortunately before the German ship can be captured it is scuttled by her own crew.

10 Jan 1941
HMS Kelly (Capt. L.F.A.V.N. Mountbatten, GCVO, DSO, RN), HMS Kelvin (Cdr. J.H. Allison, DSO, RN), HMS Kipling (Cdr. A. St. Clair-Ford, RN) and HMS Punjabi (Cdr. J.T. Lean, DSO, RN) departed Greenock. They escorted the battleship HMS Ramillies (Capt. A.D. Read, RN) and troopship Duchess of York (20021 GRT, built 1929) in the Clyde area until late afternoon when they separated and proceeded to sea. They were to rendez-vous with several warships that were approaching the U.K. from the west and south.

Rendez-vous was effected around 0800 / 0900 hours on the 12th when the battleship HMS Revenge (Capt. E.R. Archer, RN), aircraft carrier HMS Argus (Capt. E.G.N. Rushbrooke, DSC, RN), light cruiser HMS Kenya (Capt. M.M. Denny, CB, RN), armed merchant cruiser HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) and the destroyers HMS Kelly, HMS Kelvin, HMS Kipling all arrived in approximate position 60°50'N, 09°50'W.

HMS Kenya, which had been escorting HMS Argus did not join. She set course for Plymouth where she arrived on the 14th.

HMS Punjabi arrived at Scapa Flow on 14 January 1941. It seems likely she had already been detached before the rendez-vous was effected.

On the 14th HMS Argus, HMS California escorted by HMS Kelvin split off for the Clyde where they arrived later the same day. HMS Kelvin was then ordered to proceed to the Humber to refit for which she departed the next day.

HMS Revenge set course for Portsmouth escorted by HMS Kelly, HMS Kipling.

At 1615/15 HMS Revenge, HMS Kelly and HMS Kipling were joined by HMS Jersey (Lt.Cdr. A.F. Burnell-Nugent, DSC, RN) which had departed Plymouth at 1030/15.

HMS Revenge and her three escorting destroyers arrived at Portsmouth on the 16th.

30 Mar 1941
HMS California (Capt. C.J. Pope, RAN) picks up 39 survivors from the British merchant Coultarn. that was torpedoed and sunk by German U-boat U-69 southwest of Iceland in position 60°18'N, 29°28'W.

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